GOP incumbents at risk in 2 close Georgia House races

November 7, 2018 GMT
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Karen Handel, U.S. Representative, GA 6th Congressional District, talks to the media during an appearance at her election watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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Karen Handel, U.S. Representative, GA 6th Congressional District, talks to the media during an appearance at her election watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — Two Republican members of Congress faced a risk of losing their seats Wednesday as election returns showed them in perilously tight races with Democratic challengers in a pair of suburban Atlanta districts long considered safe for the GOP.

The races of GOP Reps. Karen Handel and Rob Woodall remained too close to declare a winner the day after polls closed, and campaigns said absentee ballots were still being counted Wednesday morning.

Handel’s opponent, Democratic gun-control activist Lucy McBath, claimed victory Wednesday afternoon in the 6th District seat once held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The Associated Press has not declared a winner in either congressional race. Unofficial election results Wednesday showed vote margins separating both sets of rivals hovered close to a mere 1 percent — the threshold that would allow the runner-up in either race to be granted a recount once the final results are certified.

“After a hard fought race, I am honored to announce that the people of Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District have put their trust in my vision for the future of our district and nation,” McBath said in an emailed statement.

Handel isn’t conceding. Her campaign responded with a short statement that said it’s too soon to predict the outcome.

“Given the close results of our race, and the fact that the official results at this time are within the 1% threshold where a recount is possible, we believe it is prudent to review and assess all data before making additional actions or statements,” Handel’s statement said.

The unsettled contests will determine if Democrats add to their majority after winning control of the U.S. House in the Tuesday midterm elections. Georgia Democrats saw an opening in both districts as demographic shifts have made Atlanta’s suburbs less white. They also sought to capitalize on college-educated voters disaffected with President Donald Trump.

Handel’s 6th District seat is the same battleground where last year Democrat Jon Ossoff spent $30 million and still failed in a closely watched special election that sent Handel to Washington.

In the neighboring 7th District, four-term GOP incumbent Rob Woodall struggled against Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, a college professor who outpaced the congressman in total fundraising.

Woodall’s campaign manager, Derick Corbett, said the campaign had no immediate comment Wednesday. Bourdeaux’s campaign spokesman, Jake Best, said they were still waiting for absentee ballots to be counted in Gwinnett County.

“We know we’re getting closer,” Best said. “But we don’t know how much is left.”

Georgia law guarantees an election recount if a losing candidate requests it after finishing behind the winner by a vote margin of 1 percent or less. Because in-person votes are cast electronically in Georgia, with no auditable paper trail, a recount mostly consists of re-tabulating digital votes already stored on machines. Those results aren’t likely to change.

However, absentee votes and provisional votes — those cast by voters whose eligibility is challenged at the polls — are still cast on paper ballots in Georgia. Counting those a second time has produced minor changes in the vote total during prior elections.

McBath ran on strengthening gun laws and received national attention as she campaigned as a “mother on a mission.” McBath’s 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was fatally shot at a Florida gas station in 2012 by a white man angry over the loud music the black teenager and his friends were playing in their car. She later became a national spokeswoman for the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Woodall has represented suburban Atlanta’s 7th District since 2011. The Republican won each of his prior elections with no less than 60 percent of the vote. Rather than distance himself from Trump, Woodall campaigned as an experienced lawmaker who could “get results from this president.”

Bourdeaux is a professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University in Atlanta and once worked at the state Capitol as director of Georgia’s Senate Budget and Evaluation Office. She raised more than $1.9 million for the race as of Sept. 30, compared to Woodall’s $1.02 million.